When we go on our National Trust visits and we bathe in the beauty of Mr Darcy shaggily pacing up a green lawn, are those the symbols of upper class taste in Britain today? Grayson Perry visits the Cotswolds to answer this question and to inform the final instalment of his Channel 4 series.
I visited Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire a few weeks ago, to marveled at our traditional British taste and enjoy being swept away with the romance of a perfect world, one completely disconnected from my everyday life. Old and archaic, these relics bear no resemblance to my middle class life. Grayson visits a Georgian mansion on Frampton-on-Severn and coos at dishevelment and age, a perfect British setting emblazoned 17th century embroidery. He comments that it’s ‘primed into our DNA to say “what a lovely room!”’
When we think about upper class taste today, what springs to mind? Agas and corgies, polo and pearls? The upper classes in my mind are so hidden from a working and middle class concentrated Britain that it seemed by prying into the lives of the upper classes by watching Grayson’s show, you were hunting for endangered species.
What I thought was particularly interesting about this episode was Grayson’s depiction of upper class tradition and taste becoming a mammoth weight around the neck of the person in the bloodline. Charles Berkley, at Berkley Castle in Gloucestershire, seemed fed up of his huge house, as his ‘taste was dictated to him from beyond the grave.’ He ended up living with his wife in a smaller house on the grounds, and when Grayson asks him if he thinks it would be nice to be middle class, he responds ‘oh, to have that choice. But I’ll never have the choice because one day I’ll take on Berkley.”
There seems to be no room for self-expression, as Grayson points out, and those who inherit their lot feel a huge social pressure and obligation to maintain tradition and appropriateness. And as new money moves in, the relics become even more overshadowed. In a way the upper classes will inevitably be subjugated to more prejudice because they’re tucked away, as preserved and stoic as we want them to be and have always been. I think we often view the upper classes as successful, money-rich and proud, but these attributes don’t make you immortal.
‘Upper Class At Bay’, 2012
“You can have all the stuff in the world, but it doesn’t stop you dying”
‘Hashtag Lamentation’, 2012
Grayson Perry weaves his ‘In The Best Possible Taste’ series together beautifully. From working-man’s clubs to cupcake parties for the middle classes, Grayson pulls together glowing symbols of class taste and binds them into bright tapestries – on display and materially bold. We might be material creatures in the modern day, but at Grayson’s final wrap party, where he brings together his class stereotypes in the working, middle and upper classes, he tells us that there’s no such thing as good and bad taste. It’s subjective; these symbols are merely different. The fact that we get on our high horses because of the cars we drive or the clothes we wear, or the celebrities we like, just emphasises how consumer-driven we all, inescapably, are. Grayson sends a eye-opening and unmistakably idealistic message of equality.
‘Lamentation’, Rogier van de Weyden, 1441